The next morning, Karma was panting over my shoulder when I pulled into the lot at the department. He was harnessed in the back seat of my SUV, with his head stuck through the open dividing window between us. Drool was seeped into my collar.
Baker was in his patrol car parked next to my space. Odd, since he was now off duty. When I slid the transmission into park beside him, I realized he was asleep.
I turned on my siren, jolting him upright in his seat. Laughing, I shut it off, and he held up his middle finger. Baker got out of his car, and Karma barked, fighting against his harness to get to the side window to say hello.
As I moved to turn the key and kill the engine, my phone rang. “Sgt. Sievers (Washoe)” flashed on my SUV’s display.
I motioned for Baker to wait and tapped the answer button on my display screen. “This is Essex.”
“Essex, hey, it’s Tim Sievers.”
“Hi, Tim. What can I do for you?”
“Well, I was actually calling to see if I can still do something for you, but first, how are you feeling? I wanted to give you some time after your ordeal to recover before calling.”
“Thanks, I’m better. Back in the office on light duty this week.” Karma stuck his head back through the window and whined loudly to get out.
“That’s great news. What’s the noise?”
“My dog. Sorry.”
“Don’t worry about it. I won’t keep you. I was just wondering if you still want to come work with us.”
My jaw went slack. “What?”
“I told you we’d have an opening soon. The position is yours if you want it.”
My brain was scrambling. “Which position is that?” I had no clue what he was talking about.
“The third-shift deputy position.”
“You called me about six weeks ago inquiring about a job. Don’t you remember?”
I tried to cover my confusion with a fake laugh. “Oh, of course I do. An open position. Deputy, huh?”
“Yeah, I know it’s a big step back, but I’m sure I could get you bumped up to corporal pretty quickly. What do you say?”
I had no idea what to say. The blue blood of the Sapphire Lake Police Department was bred into my veins. I had never once considered leaving, and it was a common assumption I’d be appointed chief someday. Regardless, I couldn’t imagine that under any circumstances I’d completely restart my career as an entry-level deputy.
Could this have something to do with Nyx?
I pinched the bridge of my nose. “I won’t lie to you, Tim. I’ve been through hell lately. I don’t think it’s in either of our best interests for me to make the jump to the sheriff’s department right now.”
He sighed. “I thought you might say that, but I wanted you to know we’d still love to have you if you’re ever interested again.”
“I appreciate the consideration.”
“Let me know if you change your mind. Maybe we can work something out in the future.”
When the line was dead, I stared straight ahead.
That call only made sense if I applied Nyx and my hypnox-induced memory loss to it. But, god, could it have really been that serious with her?
And if it was, could I really forget someone I obviously—(gulp)—loved that much?
Shaking the question out of my head, I got out and Baker walked around my hood. “Hey, man. What are you still doing here?” I asked as I opened Karma’s door. I grabbed his collar, attached the leash, and unbuckled his harness.
“I just wrapped up with the magistrate on that domestic,” he said, his eyes bloodshot and heavy. He knelt down to give Karma a proper hello.
“I caught up on my group-chat reading this morning when I woke up. I know it was a late call, but did you have problems?”
“No problems. It was just a slow process, as always. I knew you’d be coming in soon, so I decided to hang out and talk to you in person.”
Karma trotted over to the sliver of green between the sidewalk and the building. There, he proceeded to water every blade of grass he could hike his leg over.
“Talk about what?” I asked as I adjusted the leash. I paused. “Please don’t say nightmares.”
“No, we didn’t get any of those.”
That was encouraging. Maybe it meant the nonsense was over. “What did you want to talk about then?”
Baker looked around and lowered his voice. “Karina Trammel.”
He nodded. “She called in last night, asked for whoever was running Delta team these days. Dispatch put her through to me.”
“What’d she want?”
“She didn’t say, but I assume, from all the rumors, she wants to talk about Nyx. She asked if he could join us for shift briefing today.”
He shrugged. “I couldn’t exactly refuse the D.A. I mean, we need that office. At the same time, Nyx is a brother—” He stopped himself. “You know what I mean.”
I did. She was one of us.
“I don’t know how Nyx got that tape of Birch and the mayor, and honestly, I don’t wanna know. I’m glad she did what she did. I just don’t think Trammel will react kindly to all the pushback she’s going to get if she starts hammering us about one of our own. Thought it might be something you’d want in on.”
“I’ll be there. I want to come meet the new kid anyway.”
“Thanks for the heads up.”
“Hey, can I ask you a question?” he asked, hesitantly.
He jerked his chin toward my car. “What was that call about?”
My jaw went slack. “You heard that?”
“Speakers are pretty loud. Are you thinking about leaving?”
“No,” I said quickly.
The bend of his brow said he wasn’t buying it.
“Well, at least I’m not now. Sometime before my memory went to hell, I guess I had a conversation with Washoe County about switching departments.”
“Because of Nyx?” he asked, like it was a simple answer.
“I don’t know why,” I said truthfully.
Baker kicked some loose gravel with his polished boot. “I know you don’t want to talk about her, but you can. We all miss her. All the Delta guys.”
I grimaced against the sunshine. “Thanks.” I offered a handshake and he took it. “Go home and get some sleep. I’ll see you at shift briefing tonight.”
“Sounds good. Bye, Karma.”
Karma barked, and Baker stopped for another neck scratch.
I waited until he got into his car, then grabbed my backpack and went inside.
Again, I paused at the Wall of Heroes. This time, I focused on the man to the left of my father.
Detective Owen Ryan.
He was about my age when he’d died, survived by his wife and two little girls.
I wondered what advice he might give me now.
He’d probably say, “Stay the hell away from the Nyx family if you know what’s good for you.”
The problem was, I didn’t know—or, at least, I couldn’t remember—what was good for me.
It felt like two versions of Tyler Essex were at war: the level-headed guy, who’d always been super cautious about women; and the other guy, who’d apparently gotten so tangled up with a coworker and subordinate that he needed to find a new job.
Karma gave a quiet grumble and returned to the door just before it was flung inward. He clattered back out of the way just in time.
Valerie, balancing two paper coffee cups, one on top of the other, caught the door with her foot. A wallet was pinched between her teeth, and her eyes were crossed as she tried to put her ID card back into it. She almost dropped everything when she saw me and Karma.
“Need some help?” I asked.
She mumbled something that sounded like “here” and held the cups toward me.
I took them from her, and she grabbed the wallet from her mouth. “Thanks.” She put her ID card away and zipped the wallet shut before dropping it into the bag on her shoulder. “Hi, Karma!” She knelt with open arms. “Has my favorite boy come to see me today? Has he? Has he?” As Karma greeted her with kisses—Valerie kept treats in her desk for all the K-9s—she smiled up at me. “One of those cups is for you.”
“You got me coffee?”
“Sure did.” She furiously raked her painted nails through Karma’s coat.
“Why? Am I going to need it?” I asked, worried.
“Probably. This is a police station, or haven’t you heard?” She rubbed noses with my dog. “We all need a little boost from time to time, don’t we, Karma? Don’t we?” Karma’s tail wagged furiously, and she laughed. “Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy, I know! I know!”
I looked at her sideways. “Are you all right?”
“I’m great. On top of the world. Never better.” She gave Karma’s neck one last squeeze and popped up. “Why do you ask?”
While I scrambled for a response that wasn’t “because I’ve seen people on meth” she grabbed one of the coffee cups from me.
“This one’s mine. Carmel spice. Yum yum yum.” She smacked her lips.
I laughed softly. Explains a lot.
“I thought you quit,” I said.
“I did, but after I was there yesterday, I dreamed about the glorious smell of that cafe all day and night.” She lifted her cup to her lips and look a long slurp. “This was actually my second trip.”
I believed it. “Second trip? How long have you been here this morning?”
“Got here at six. On Tuesdays and Thursdays my husband has to go to Reno for work, so he drops the kids at school on his way in, and I come in early to get off in time to pick them up at three when the bell rings.” Her mouth was moving almost too fast to keep up.
“Remind me, are your kids boys or girls?”
“Three boys. Between them, my husband, and this place, I’m on testosterone overload all the time.” She laughed a little too loudly, then took another drink. “God, this stuff is delicious!”
“You definitely need your coffee then.” I lifted my cup. “Thanks for thinking of me.”
“Of course! Of course!”
There was a tone over the loudspeaker. “Sergeant Essex, please come to the front office.”
“Any idea what that’s about?” I asked.
Valerie shrugged. “I dunno.”
“Come on, Karma,” I said.
Karma sat on Valerie’s foot, looking back at her with his tongue dangling from the side of his mouth.
“Can he visit with me for a bit?” Valerie asked, offering her hand for his leash.
I gave it to her. “Sure, but don’t let him guilt you into more than one bone. He’s getting fat.”
She bent toward him. “And if I do, I’ll never ever tell your daddy, will I?”
Karma slurped her face.
“Who wants a treat? Does Karma want a treat?” she asked.
Karma popped up, his tail wagging in response.
“Thanks, Valerie. I’ll let you know if this is going to take long.”
“You take all the time you need. Karma and I will be just fine.”
I turned down the hallway that led out front. At the end, I used my key card to get through the heavy wooden doors to the lobby. On the other side was Carly Austin.
I eased the door closed behind me, not because the door would disturb anyone, but to buy myself some more time before greeting her.
What the hell was she doing here?
She stood, beaming. “I was hoping you’d be here again today.”
“Are you OK?”
“Oh, I’m fine. Just decided to drop by before work.”
She was wearing her uniform—today’s plaid was purple and orange—but I knew for a fact that the restaurant didn’t open for four hours.
“Can I help you with something?”
She walked toward me, lowered her voice, and cupped a hand around her mouth. “I had another dream last night.”
I looked around to see if we were in earshot of anyone. We weren’t, but I stepped closer to her and matched her hushed tone anyway. “Hey, just so we’re clear, I’m not interested in anything personal.”
She was surprised. “That’s not why I’m here.”
“I know, but you sent me your phone number and asked me to call you. Now, here we are.”
Carly tugged on my sleeve. “Hey, I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable—”
“But I really did have another dream. I thought you’d want to hear about it.” She leaned toward my ear. “I know where they are.”
My head snapped back. I studied her eyes.
She gave an excited nod.
“Come on back.” Using my card again, I opened the door and held it for her.
“You have a little jail here and everything. I had no idea,” she said as we walked.
I pulled out my cell phone. “Yeah, we have to in case the weather blocks the highway. Excuse me a sec.” I dialed the number for the front desk we’d just come from.
“Sapphire Lake Police Department,” the guy answered.
“Hey, it’s Sergeant Tyler Essex. I was just in there. Can you put me through to Valerie Leon, please?”
“You’re in the building?”
“You can dial her extension from any phone.”
“I don’t know her extension.”
“I don’t have an office phone. Can you just put me through?”
“Yes, sir. Just a moment.”
I lowered the phone away from my mouth. “Sorry, I suck at office work.”
“You don’t usually work here?” Carly asked.
“Not if I can help it.”
The phone line clicked. “This is Valerie.”
“Hey, it’s Essex. Are you busy?”
“Always, but what’s up?”
“Can you come meet me in Conference Room…uh—” I searched the placards on the wall—“three? I’ll try to not keep you long.”
“Sure. Want me to bring Karma?”
“Be right there.”
I ended the call and directed Carly into the conference room. Leaving the door wide open, I hovered in the threshold, in plain view of the cameras in the hall. It was probably carefulness overkill, but the last thing I needed was a citizen getting the wrong idea. And if Carly was anything, she was persistent.
“I don’t bite.” As if reading my mind, Carly twisted a strand of her blonde ponytail around her finger. “Unless you ask me nicely.”
Yep. Keeping my ass in the hallway.
“We have rules we must follow to keep everyone safe. My colleague will be here soon.” Valerie might be bouncing around the conference room like a pinball, but she’d be here.
“I understand. I guess cops can’t be too careful.”
Valerie and Karma turned the corner in the hallway. Karma was licking his chops, probably slurping up every molecule of whatever snack Valerie had given him. I sipped my coffee. “Carly, do you mind dogs?”
“I love them,” she replied brightly.
When Valerie reached me, I offered to take his leash.
“I’ve got him.” She held it away from me. “You said this would only take a minute. Karma and I have big plans this morning.”
He panted at the sound of his name.
I led them both into the conference room. “Valerie, this is Carly Austin. Carly stopped by to tell me about a dream she had.” I plopped my shoulder bag onto the conference table across from Carly and pulled out a notebook.
Valerie sat down at the head of the table, and Karma cautiously sniffed the visitor.
“May I pet him?” she asked Valerie.
Valerie directed the question to me. “Sarge?”
“Go ahead,” I said. “But be warned, he might lick you to death.”
“That’s OK.” Carly scooted her rolling chair closer and leaned forward. “Hey, hot stuff.” She scratched his neck. “What’s his name?”
“Karma,” I answered.
She smiled. “Is Karma a bitch?”
“Well, Karma is a boy, but yes, a total bitch. Most of the time, anyway.”
His nose was buried in her pant leg, then her sleeve, then the crook of her neck. She tensed and laughed as he shoved his cold nose into her ear.
“Karma, leave her alone,” I said, worried he might start humping her.
“He’s fine. I think he smells my Fifi,” she said.
“Who’s Fifi?” Valerie asked.
“My baby. Eighty-three pounds of fur and happiness. She’s an Old English Sheepdog.” Carly pulled out her phone and showed Valerie a fluffy white-and-gray dog with a pink bow on its head.
“Oh, it’s like the dog from The Little Mermaid!” Valerie cried.
“Yep. That was my favorite Disney movie as a kid.” She lowered her voice like she was about to tell Valerie a big secret. “Now it’s Frozen, but don’t tell Fifi.”
“Thanks,” Carly said, putting the phone away.
I clicked my pen a few times to get everyone back on task.
“So, you had a dream?” Valerie asked her.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Carly said.
“Not this week, it doesn’t,” Valerie said.
“Carly’s given me more detail than anyone so far.” I flipped open the notebook. “What’ve you got today?”
“So I was back in the water, this time kicking like mad for the surface. I didn’t think I’d ever get there. It was like swimming through maple syrup.”
“Kinda like when you’re running away from something in a nightmare and your legs won’t move?” Valerie asked.
“Exactly. I was so tired when I finally reached the surface that I just floated there a few minutes, staring up at the stars.”
“Do you know where you were?” I asked.
“You know the cliffs?”
Carly closed her eyes and held up both hands. “The cliffs were here.” She reached one hand forward. “Drexler Cove was here.” The other hand wagged a little to the left. “Fate’s Island and the Death Bridge were back behind me.”
The Hope Drexler Memorial Bridge had a few aliases. Locals called it the “Death Bridge,” claiming it was haunted. But every first responder knew it as the “Usual Spot” because if a wreck or a suicide was going to happen—that was usually the spot.
Just beyond the dam, the curved bridge over the mountain pass connected the main highway to the Drexler Resort property. It was 241-feet tall, with rocks and water down below.
None of us believed hauntings caused the wrecks; science did. Bridges ice before roads, simple as that. The suicides, on the other hand, added a huge dose of creepy to the ghost stories.
At least that told me which side of the lake Carly was dreaming about. “Any idea the distance to the cliffs or the cove?”
“Uh…I kinda suck with judging distance on anything but a ski slope.” She perked up in her seat. “I could show you, if we had a boat.”
I grimaced. “Not sure the police department is ready to start putting boats on the water in quest of dreams just yet.”
“Yeah, that makes sense.”
“Did anything else happen when you got to the surface?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I just saw where I was. It was like whatever, or whoever, was driving the dream wanted me to know.”
Valerie and I exchanged a look.
“Please don’t think I’m nuts,” Carly said.
“We don’t,” I said honestly. “It’s unusual, but it’s also kinda fascinating.”
“I agree. I’ve never had dreams like this before.”
“Do you dream a lot?” Valerie asked.
“Yeah. Always. My mother and sister do too. I think it runs in my family.”
“Tell me about lucid dreaming.” I flipped to a clean page in my notebook.
“Sure. I didn’t even know it was a thing until I saw a movie about it. I thought everyone knew they were dreaming when they were asleep.”
With some of the nightmares I was prone to, I wished I knew I was dreaming. Unfortunately, mine felt real, too real, and they were unusually inescapable.
“Now, when I have them, I can usually control what I do in them. Make decisions, move around, visit new places. I can even fly sometimes. It’s pretty cool.”
“Sounds like it,” Valerie said.
“I started keeping a dream journal a few years ago, and that’s helped make the dreams more vivid. It’s like my brain is tuned to remembering the details now. Makes them easier to navigate too. But, like I told you yesterday, these dreams are different. I’m not in control. Someone else is behind the wheel.”
Valerie cringed. “That’s terrifying.”
“Not really. I mean, the bodies were creepy as hell, but I didn’t feel afraid last night. It felt important. Like I needed to know where I was. I really wish we had a boat so I could show you.”
“If I come up with one, I’ll let you know,” I said. “Anything else?”
Her mouth squished to one side. “I’m working on something else, but I don’t want to get your hopes up about it in case it totally sucks.”
“In case what sucks?”
“In another life, I used to be an artist. I thought maybe that skill could come in handy now.”
“What kind of art?” Valerie asked.
“Mostly sketches, some painting, but I’m afraid I’m wildly out of practice, so I didn’t bring them with me today.”
“I’d love to see them and your dream journal, if you wrote about this.” I tapped my pen against my notebook.
With a smile, she nodded. “I’ll bring them by sometime.”
She stood. “I hope this was helpful.”
I was still hoping it was unnecessary. “Very. Thank you.”
“Valerie, it was nice to meet you.” The women shook hands.
“You too, Carly.”
Karma, worried he’d be forgotten, got up and leaned against Carly’s legs. She knelt beside him, scratching behind his ear. “I wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye to my new favorite friend.”
He licked her face, making her laugh.
I clicked my tongue, and he trotted over to me. Didn’t need him getting attached to another woman I was trying to avoid.
Valerie waited outside the conference room as Karma and I walked Carly to the exit. “Thanks for stopping by,” I said, opening the lobby door for her.
“Of course. I’ll let you know if I dream again tonight.”
She walked out but paused to smile back at me. “Maybe I’ll bring you some tacos next time I stop by.”
“Ha, thanks.” I waved and let the door close. Karma looked up at me. “That chick is going to ruin my favorite restaurant for me,” I said to him with a sigh.
Valerie was still waiting when we returned. “Nice girl.”
“I think she likes you.”
“I know she does. That’s why I asked you to come down.”
“Figured. Not interested?”
We started back to the office.
“What do you make of her dreams?” Valerie asked.
“I have no idea. I’m going to dig into all the missing-persons reports that I can from the surrounding areas. Just to make sure we aren’t missing anyone that could be down there.”
“I didn’t want to say it in front of her, but you might be wrong about using the boats.”
“Chief Magnus wants to see you. He’s talking about dredging the lake for bodies.”